Episode 3: Age of Ghosts / Chapter 35: Break Time (3)
The president treated the kings as VIPs and even provided them with accommodations. He thought that even if he wasn’t able to control the survivors, he could at least cooperate with them. This was because many of the survivors had lost their way of life and he had the power to grant them that.
Of course, he was currently caught up in a chaotic situation where he couldn’t predict what would happen next.
After all, there was a chance that all of humanity would have to play the survival game after the break. Why worry about the possibility that their way of life might be ripped apart like paper? The president was a realist who focused on what he could do right at that moment. He aided the survivors as much as he could and even treated the kings especially kindly.
Choi Hyuk showered for the first time in a long while.
The warm water, which endlessly wrapped over his body, felt luxurious.
The smell of clean water, the ivory tiles, the steam-filled room, a faint scent, lighting and even a soft towel. These sensations that he hadn’t felt for a long time felt even sweeter and more unfamiliar, making him all the more sensitive.
After donning a robe, he went out and drank an ice cold drink from the fridge. He looked out the window. It was peaceful.
As he became more relaxed, he recalled death.
Shadows danced between the soft and fancy lights.
Screams, pleading voices. The sensation of slicing into flesh. The warmth of blood. And the faces of the dead.
Choi Hyuk repeatedly recalled the deaths of Jung Minji and his mother.
He didn’t personally witness their deaths. Perhaps it was because of this that his mother and Jung Minji’s faces were overlaid on top of the faces of the dead.
His heart felt chilly. He even felt that it was unfair.
When he thought of Jung Minji, he imagined fireworks. A dangerous but brilliantly burning flame. She was fiercer than anyone. Her decisions were never on impulse. She troubled over it, suffered over it and once she decided, she was filled with determination. It didn’t matter if she did good or bad, she lived dazzlingly.
His mother was the same. Choi Hyuk remembered the bundles of design drafts that his mother would bring home. Occasionally, when she was stuck on a certain part, she would explain the sketches to him, flipping through each sketch one at a time. Then, if she suddenly thought of a good idea, she would tie her hair up and draw throughout the night. When Choi Hyuk asked, “What is ‘design’?” his mother would reply without hesitation, “Design is something that brings more compassion to the world.” He would then fall asleep watching his mother work. That was peace. He didn’t feel the same happiness that came from a rush of adrenaline but it was a comforting peace. The one his mother always wanted to give him. To be calm rather than angry and to be carefree rather than impatient. “Stay still and just breathe. Slowly. Breathe in. And slowly breathe out… That’s good. Listen carefully. What do you hear?” This was something his mother would often say.
Like in the past, Choi Hyuk took a big breath and slowly breathed out. He silently listened.
The world was noisier than one would think. The sound of the water from the shower. The vibrations of the fridge. Sounds from an unknown machine. As he calmly listened to the sounds of the bustling and lively world, his heart became peaceful.
This was his mother’s world. However, since his mother had died, this world had died and disappeared along with her.
He felt this was unfair.
Every living individual had their own unique personality. Jung Minji’s world, his mother’s world, Choi Hyuk’s world and Baek Seoin’s world, none were the same. They were all so different when they lived… they were so different but… when they died, if they died, they all become the same. A mushy lump of flesh.
Jung Minji became just a lump of flesh? It was hard to believe.
And when he thought about how his mother had become like that as well…
An uncontrollable rage surged out.
He had killed 8 people in the meeting but that was only for an instant, his anger basically didn’t settle in the slightest. He was angry. His veins bulged.
The calm night had suddenly turned into a large phantom that haunted him. His blood burned. A world where his mother was dead. The animosity from living in such a world made it seem as though each breath he exhaled was poisonous. Every time he breathed the way his mother taught him, the poison just seemed to spread thicker.
So… the reason for his unceasing anger was obvious.
Choi Hyuk hadn’t caught the main culprits.
The bastards who created this game. He hadn’t even seen their shadows, let alone the names of the bastards he needed to kill.
There was only a single hint.
His dantian formed from karma was beating. The karma in his body continuously flowed into his dantian before spreading out again. Each and every cell seemed to be burned by the karma and revitalized. This was a new discipline.
‘The Flaming Wing Tribe’s Karma Heart Discipline.’
This was the reward he had received after killing the Wyvern of Death. That time it said, [As a reward for the corpse of the Wyvern of Destruction, the [Flaming Wing Tribe’s Karma Heart Discipline’ has been passed down.] The reward for that gigantic corpse. He didn’t receive any items other than this one discipline.
Choi Hyuk focused on the ‘Flaming Wing Tribe’ name more than the discipline itself. That tribe… in the very least, wasn’t human. What sort of connection did the Flaming Wing Tribe have with the creators of this game? Were they the ones in question?
Those thoughts were enough to drive him crazy.
His rage was burning but the amount of information he had was the size of a chick’s tear. He was powerless. He had no way of satisfying his thirst. Choi Hyuk stayed up all night before finally falling asleep late in the early morning.
The next day. On the last day of their break, Choi Hyuk met with someone connected to ‘them’.
It started with a buzz in his ears. Soon after, a message appeared.[10 minutes before transfer. Arm yourself.]
Choi Hyuk wordlessly armed himself.
The Blue House provided him with casual clothes but he wore the clothes he obtained from the supplies in Kangdong District instead. Brown pants and a thick ivory shirt. These clothes had a high resistance to monster blood. Regular clothes would melt at the contact of monster blood so he wasn’t able to wear them for a long time.
When he put on the ‘Warrior Boots’, he heard the clanking of leather and steel, and when he wore the ‘Mountain Orc’s Leather Armor’, he felt the tightness of the leather. The three swords he used to carry around had all shattered and now he only had the Predator’s Blade sheathed on his waist. Though he didn’t get a lot of sleep, his condition wasn’t bad due to his sharp and keen senses.
He finished his preparations. His heart seemed to chill over.
A question crossed his mind. What would it be this time? Just what was happening before the end of the break?
‘Whatever it is…’
Choi Hyuk tightly gripped his blade.
It was time.
The moment he saw the message, it felt like he was being turned inside out.
Instead of the world turning inside out, it felt more like his body was turning inside out. It felt like his insides were coming out of his mouth and becoming his skin and his skin was receding inside him.
Extreme dizziness and nausea overcame him. He couldn’t see anything. He felt that something was moving but he didn’t have the mind to discern it.
The karma in his body became wasted. They stuck together like melted plastic and scattered like boiling oil.
Choi Hyuk flopped down and retched. He forcefully swallowed down the acid reflux again and again. Only afterwards did he see his surroundings.
Steel. Steel and scales were everywhere. It might not even be steel. However, it was a metal that was as strong and cold as steel. Black and white scales that were the size of a human covered his surroundings and wriggled as if they were alive.
The place was a scale-covered cavern. When he looked at the cavern, he once again started to retch.
It wasn’t only Choi Hyuk. 39 people, including himself, were staggering and retching. There were even some who actually vomited.
After feeling like his whole body was turned inside out, he was in an unfamiliar place. Distance teleportation? No… Would the earth have a place like this? Then dimensional teleportation? Either way, it was hard to endure this place even with his karma reinforced body.
Still, once he had gradually adjusted his body, he heard the noises around him.
He could hear crashing sounds as if a mountain was being shattered and a pitiful scream off in the distance.
‘It’s a battlefield.’
Choi Hyuk knew it instinctively.
The metal scales on the ceiling of the cavern were split apart. The scales brushed against one other and emitted a sound of two swords colliding with each other. Immediately, he heard a loud howl from outside.
An enormous being that was more than 4m tall fell from the opening in the ceiling.
“Urk! It’s a monster!”
Someone shouted. It was as he said. An enormous body, his wrinkly, gray face resembled that of a mountain orc with teeth protruding from its mouth. Choi Hyuk reflexively unsheathed the Predator’s Blade. Not only him but others in the cavern also quickly steadied themselves and raised their weapons. Their swift movements indicated that they were all extraordinary.
“Put them down.”
How the throat of the creature worked was unknown but a mixture of a voice and a beast’s growl came out of his mouth. The enormous orc’s words echoed throughout the cavern.
Though he said it in an unfamiliar language, Choi Hyuk had no problems understanding him.
At the same time, a pair of blazing wings sprouted out from his back and with the appearance of his wings, a formless power suppressed them.
The weapons that the humans had raised were forced down. It was no use even if they tried to resist. There was only one person who didn’t lower his weapon, Choi Hyuk.
Choi Hyuk resisted even as his blade became extremely heavy. The small karma heart in his dantian was crazily pumping karma and he was barely able to keep his sword raised with that strength. However, the tip of his blade couldn’t help but tremble.
The orc glanced at Choi Hyuk as if he was interesting.
But he turned away and said to everyone.
“Nice to meet you. I am Karik, the great warrior of the Steel Battleship. I am from the proud race of giant orcs.”
Even though he was simply talking, their ears hurt due to his rumbling voice. The giant orc Karik, who had overwhelmed everyone’s spirits, continued to speak.
“I’ll just explain since we have no time. First, congratulations on passing the new recruit training. The 39 of you were the ones who awakened as sovereigns at the end and have gathered here as the representatives of the human race.”
They weren’t simple words, the meaning of his words was sent into their heads.
The sovereigns were able to learn that ‘kings’ were in fact only trainees and were the preliminary stages of becoming a ‘sovereign’ from Karik’s explanation.
The only ones who had awakened as sovereigns in the whole world were these 39 people who were gathered here.
“Now, I will invite the guests who currently lack the qualifications.”
Once Karik stamped his foot on the ground, hundreds of ghost-like figures appeared behind the sovereigns. They were the leaders of each country, even the president of the Republic of Korea was among them. They had puzzled expressions as if they were dreaming. Karik said to them.
“You lacked the qualifications to execute dimensional teleportation… however, you have been appointed as leaders in your world. You are here as ‘preliminary sovereigns’. If you properly complete your mission, you will truly earn the position of a sovereign.”
The moment Karik’s voice resounded out, the disordered astral bodies of the leaders seemed to take an impact as they stiffened. They were unable to even blink as their gazes locked in on Karik.
“You humans received a ‘Consumables (deferred)’ judgment. You are as weak as they come but due to some interesting cases, you received a deferred judgment. Among you, I heard that there was a King without Subjects who became a sovereign… Very interesting.”
Sovereigns were normally those who led many people. In other words, it was almost impossible for a King without Subjects to become a sovereign. Choi Hyuk’s existence was a special case. He was so far superior to the others that they granted the human race extra points.
Karik’s gaze momentarily fell on Choi Hyuk. Choi Hyuk didn’t lower his sword even as he was sweating bullets. He was different from the other sovereigns who could only tremble their bodies and lower their heads.
“There are other interesting cases besides him.”
Karik’s gaze glanced over a few other sovereigns.
A grey-haired, handsome middle-aged man was calmly listening to Karik’s words with his eyes closed and arms crossed.
A young Latin woman scratched her thigh with an elongated sword as she stared intensely at Karik.
On the other hand, there was an old black man chuckling to himself with his head lowered obediently.
Karik glanced at them before continuing again.
“Still, you are very lacking. You have been granted a 5-year grace period. During this time, if you do not have a satisfying result, you will all be fated to become Consumables.”
‘Consumables’, that was how they interpreted it but his pronunciation of the unfamiliar language was hard to understand. The resonations of the word itself gave them a very frightening and ominous feeling.
“You have exactly two missions. Get stronger. And colonize. First, carry out the mission to the utmost of your abilities and get stronger. And give thanks to the Exalted Wings who granted you land to colonize. This is your last chance. Do not be the slightest bit negligent.”
Karik first said to the 39 sovereigns.
“The first to completely colonize their area will be able to use the Blazing Wing Alliance’s supply store. This is a privilege granted to you, the sovereigns representing the human race.”
Then he looked down onto the hundreds of human leaders.
“It’s the same for you. The first to completely colonize their area without the help of a sovereign will immediately become a true sovereign and be able to use the supply store.”
A flood of unknown words swirled around them. However, there was no one who could reply.
Karik’s overwhelming presence made these so-called representatives of the human race freeze.
But Karik only indicated he was busy, he paid no attention to their confusion as he prepared to end their short but grandiose meeting.
“Finally, I will answer a question. You.”
The one Karik stretched his arm out and pointed to was Choi Hyuk, who had kept his weapon raised until the end.
Instantly, the pressure that pushed down on him disappeared. Choi Hyuk panted as his body wavered briefly but he was still able to calm his breath quickly.
Choi Hyuk slowly raised his weapon and looked at Karik.
‘Ask you a question…?’
He was puzzled. He was suddenly transported to a weird place, then a monster suddenly appeared and talked by himself before saying he would take questions out of the blue.
Just what did he have to ask in a situation like this?
However, unlike his complicated mind, his lips easily found a question.
Choi Hyuk instinctively swallowed back the question that was about to pop from his mouth. It was appropriate. It was the complete reflection of his interest. His heart revealed its claws by itself.
But he hid those claws and politely asked.
“What do we have to do to meet the Exalted Wings?”
The existences Karik had mentioned, the Exalted Wings.
Choi Hyuk thought they were the main culprits. The ones who created and started this game. The ones he most definitely had to kill.
Karik looked like he was amused at Choi Hyuk’s question. He replied.
“The ones who have at least met them once were all at least mid-ranked warrior races. However, your race doesn’t even have a rank, let alone a mid-rank one. It’s absurd. For a weak warrior from such an insignificant race to want to meet such exalted beings… ask that once you completely escape your fate of becoming Consumables. Keahaha!”
That was the end.
Karik turned around, then, as if he forgot something, added in.
“Also, if there are any tongues who dare call me a monster next time… I’ll pull them out. That’s it. Now go.”
With Karik’s words, he once again felt the sensation of his body being turned inside out.
However, this time, Choi Hyuk didn’t hunch over or retch, he stood still and endured the dizziness. He even swallowed down the acid rising up his throat. He looked out at his distorted surroundings with bloodshot eyes. How much time had passed since then?
The next thing that he saw was the residence that the president had provided him.
It was early in the morning. The world was gradually starting to become visible through the blue fog.